LINFIELD have kept Irish club hopes alive in Europa with a fantastic away win in the sweltering Greek heat.
It had been a concern for manager for manager David Jeffrey before the second round first leg qualifier game.
But his players did the club proud against Skoda Xanthi who are seventh in their league.
The Blues take an away goal advantage back to Windsor Park next Thursday, July 25 thanks to Aaron Burns goal on 25 mins.
It was one of Linfield’s finest European performances in Greece tonight to upset the odds.
Burns’ strike gives the Blues a real chance of progression in the Europa League.
Manager David Jeffrey sprung a surprise in his team selection by giving former Glentoran defender Sean Ward his Linfield debut.
Jamie Mulgrew dropped to the bench in a tactical move.
After a cagey opening period the first chance fell to the home side on 20 minutes.
Marin took a free kick on the left and found Vallas at the back post but the Xanthi skipper headed straight at Tuffey from 10 yards.
Linfield took a shock lead after 25 minutes in their first attack of the night. Michael Carvill had a great run down the left and found Aaron Burns outside the box.
Burns forced his way into the penalty area and produced a great left foot effort past Gimenez from 15 yards.
What a start for the Blues and it left the home crowd stunned.
The home side almost replied instantly after 28 minutes. Sean Ward fouled Die Serge on the edge of the area and the same played stepped up to curl a superb left foot shot inches over the bar with Tuffey beaten.
Linfield continued to threaten on the break and James Knowles had a shot deflected wide on the half hour mark. The Blues containment tactics were frustrating the home side and they held onto their precious one goal lead at the interval.
Half Time: Skoda Xanthi 0 – 1 Linfield
Linfield almost added a second on 55 minutes. James Knowles took a corner on the right and Aaron Burns almost had a free header on goal but just failed to connect with the ball under pressure from the home defence. Xanthi began to exert considerable pressure on the Linfield defence and Nicolas Marin had an excellent low left foot effort on 61 minutes which Tuffey did well to push round the post.
The home side had claims for a penalty on 69 minutes but Brazilian Marchelo Leite was booked for diving. Xanthi substitute Triadis curled in a fine right foot free kick after 76 minutes but Jonny Tuffey did well to palm the ball over the bar. One minute later Michael Carvill almost snatched a sensational second goal but Giminez reacted well to tip his 25 yard effort over the bar.
Xanthi were enjoying plenty of possession but rarely threatened the Linfield goal thanks to some excellent work from the defensive unit, led by inspirational captain Michael Gault. The Blues defence held firm during the four added minutes of added time to record their third ever away win in Europe.
It’s all to play for in the second leg in Belfast but ‘Big Davey’ will be proud of his team’s battlling performance.
Linfieldfc.com Man of the Match: Michael Gault
Linfield Team :
Tuffey, Ervin, Gault, BJ Burns, Clarke, Lowry, Knowles (Mulgrew 65), Ward, A.Burns (McCaul 79), Carvill, Thompson (McAllister 70)